Building FCP X Effects – Update


A few weeks ago I built and posted a small FCP X color correction effect using the Motion template process. While I have no intention of digging deeper into plug-in design, it’s an interesting experiment into understanding how you can use the power of Motion and Final Cut Pro X to develop custom effects, transitions, and generators. In this process, I’ve done a bit of tweaking, created a few more effects, and gotten a better understanding of how it all works. If you download the updated effects, there are a total of three filters (Motion templates) – a color corrector, a levels filter and a DVE.

Color science

In going through this exercise, a few things have been brought to my attention. First of all, filters are not totally transparent. If you apply my color correction filter, you’ll see slight changes in the videoscopes even when each tab is at its default. This doesn’t really matter since you are applying a correction anyway; but if it annoys you, then simply uncheck the item you aren’t using, like brightness or contrast.

df2615_fcpxfilterupdate_3Secondly, the exact same filter in FCP X may or may not use the same color science as the Motion version, even though they are called the same thing. Specifically this is the case with the Hue/Saturation filter. My template uses the one from Motion, of course. The FCP X Hue/Sat filter uses a color model in which saturation is held constant and luma (a composite of RGB) varies. The Motion version holds luma constant and allows saturation to vary.

The quickest way to test this is with a solid red generator. Apply the FCP X Hue/Sat filter and rotate the hue control. Set the scopes to display an RGB parade, vectorscope, and the waveform set to luma. As you rotate the hue around the dial, you’ll notice that the color dot stays neatly in the boxes of the vectorscope and moves in a straight, diagonal line from vector to vector. The RGB parade will show a perfect combination of red, blue, and green values to achieve the correct RMBCGY coordinates. However, the waveform luma levels will move up and down with large changes.

Now compare this to the hue control in the Hue/Sat filter included in my template. This is from Motion. As you rotate the hue control around the dial, the saturation value moves in what seems to be an erratic fashion around the vectorscope; but, the luma display changes very little. If you apply this same test to real footage, instead of a generated background color, you’ll get perceptually better results with Motion’s Hue/Sat filter than with the FCP X version. In most cases, either approach is acceptable, since for the purposes of color correction, you will likely only move the dial a few degrees left or right from the default of zero. Hue changes in color grading should be very subtle.


Expanding filter features

After I built this first Motion template, I decided to poke around some more inside Motion to see if it offered other filters that had value for color correction. And as a matter of fact, it does. Motion includes a very nice Levels filter. It includes sliders for RGB as a group, as well as individual settings for red, green, and blue. Each group is broken down into sliders for black in/out, white in/out, and gamma. Then there’s an overall mix value. That a total of 21 sliders, not counting opacity, which I didn’t publish in my template. Therefore, you have fairly large control over grading using only the Levels filter.

df2615_fcpxfilterupdate_4I thought about building it into the earlier Oliver Color filter I had created, but ran into some obvious design issues. When you build these effects, it’s important to think through the order of clicking publish on the parameters that you want to appear inside of FCP X. This sequence will determine where these values appear in the stack of controls in the FCP X inspector. In other words, even though I placed this Levels filter ahead of Color Balance within Motion, the fact that I clicked publish after these other values had already been published, meant that these new controls would be placed to the bottom of my stack once this was displayed in FCP X. The way to correct this is to first unpublish everything and then select publish for each parameter in the order that you want it to appear.

A huge interface design concern is just how cluttered you do or don’t want your effect controls to be inside of FCP X. This was a key design issue when FCP X was created. You’ll notice that Apple’s built-in FCP X effects have a minimalist approach to the number of sliders available for each filter. Adding Levels into my Color filter template meant adding 21 more sliders to an interface that already combined a number of parameters for each of the other components. Going through this exercise makes it clear why Apple took the design approach they did and why other developers have resorted to various workarounds, such as floating controls, HUDs, and other solutions. The decision for me was simply to create a separate Oliver Levels filter that could be used separately, as needed.


More value from color presets 

An interesting discovery I made was how Color Board presets can be used in FCP X 10.2. When you choose a preset from the Color Board’s pulldown menu, you can access these settings as you always have. The downside is that you can’t preview a setting like you can other effects in the effects palette. You have to apply a preset from the Color Board to see what it will look like with your image.df2615_fcpxfilterupdate_5

FCP X 10.2 adds the ability to save filter presets. Since color correction using the Color Board has now been turned into a standard filter, you can save color presets as an effects preset. This means that if you have a number of Color Board presets (the built-in FCP X settings, mine, or any custom ones you’ve created) simply apply the color preset and then save that color correction filter setting as a new effects preset. When you do this you get a choice of what category to save it into. You can create your own, such as My Color Presets. Now these presets will show up in that category inside the effects palette. When you skim over the preset icon, your image will be previewed with that color correction value applied.

Although these presets appear in the same palette as other Motion templates, the effects presets themselves are stored in a different place. They are located in the OS X user library under Application Support/ProApps/Effects Presets. For example, I created 40 Color Board presets that can all be turned into Effects Presets visible within the Effects palette. I’m not going to post them that way, but if you feel ambitious, I would invite you to download the Color Board presets and make your own effects presets out of them.

All of this is a great way to experiment and see how you can use the resources Apple has provided to personalize a system tailored to your own post needs.

Click here to download the Motion template effects.

Click here to download the Color Board presets.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Lumetri plus SpeedGrade Looks


Last year I created a series of Looks presets that are designed to work with SpeedGrade CC. These use Adobe’s .look format, which is a self-contained container format that includes SpeedGrade color correction layers and built-in effects. Although I specifically designed these for use with SpeedGrade, I received numerous inquiries as to how they could be used directly within Premiere Pro. There have been solutions, but finally with the release of Premiere Pro CC 2015, this has become very easy. (Look for a full review of Premiere Pro CC 2015 in a future post.) Click any image for an expanded view.

df2515_lumsglooks_1_smOne of the top features of the CC 2015 release is the new Lumetri Color panel for Premiere Pro. When you select the Color workspace, the Premiere Pro interface will automatically display the Lumetri Color panel along with new, real-time videoscopes. This new panel provides extensive color correction features in a single panel (controls are also available in the Effects Control panel). It is based on a layer design that is similar to the Lightroom adjustment controls.

df2515_lumsglooks_6_smThe top control of the panel lets you select either the source clip (left name) or that one instance on the timeline (right name). If you select the source clip, then any correction is applied as a master clip effect. This correction will ripple to any other instances of that source on the timeline. If you select the timeline clip, then corrections only affect that one spot on the timeline. Key, for the purposes of this article, is the fact that the Lumetri Color panel includes two entry points for LUTs, using either the .cube or .look format. Adobe supplies a set of Adobe and LookLabs (SpeedLooks) LUTs. You can access built-in or third-party files from either the Basic or the Creative tab of the Lumetri Color panel.

df2515_lumsglooks_5_smIf you want to use any custom Look file – such as the free ones that I built or a purchased set, like SpeedLooks – simply choose browse from the pulldown menu and navigate to your hard drive location containing the file that you want to use. Sometimes this will require two LUTs. For example, SpeedLooks are based on corrections to a default log format optimized for LookLabs products. This means you’ll need to apply one of their camera patches to move the camera color into their unified log format. On the other hand, my Looks are based on a standard image, so you may or may not need an additional LUT. If you have ARRI Alexa footage recorded with a log-C gamma profile, then you’ll want to add Adobe’s default Log-C-to-Rec709 LUT, along with the Look file. In both examples, you would add the camera LUT in the Basic tab, since this is where the correction pipeline starts. Camera LUTs should be applied as source effects, so that they are applied as master clip effects.df2515_lumsglooks_2_sm

The next step is to apply your creative “look”, which might be a film emulation LUT or some other type of subjective look. This is applied through the pulldown in the Creative tab. Usually it’s best to apply this as a timeline effect. Simply select a built-in option or browse to other choices on your hard drive. In the case of my SpeedGrade Looks, pick the one you like based on the style you are after. Since the .look format can contain SpeedGrade’s built-in effect filters and vignettes, these will be included when applied in the Lumetri panel as part of a single LUT file.

df2515_lumsglooks_4_smAs with any LUT, not all settings work ideally with your own footage. This means you MUST adjust the other settings in the Lumetri Color panel to get the results you want. A creative LUT is only a starting point and never the final look. As you look through the various controls on the tabs, you’ll see a plethora of grading tools for exposure, contrast, color balance, curves, vignettes, and more. Tweak to your heart’s content and you’ll get some outstanding results without ever leaving the Premiere Pro environment.

Click here to download a .zip archive of the free SpeedGrade Looks file.

©2015 Oliver Peters

DaVinci Resolve – 10 Tips to Improve Your Skills


Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve is one of the pre-eminent color correction applications – all the more amazing that it’s so accessible to any user. Even the free Lite version does nearly everything you’d want from any color grading software. If you have an understanding of how to use a 3-way color correction filter and you comprehend procedural nodes as a method of stacking corrections, then it’s easy to get proficient with Resolve, given a bit of serious seat time. The following tips are designed to help you get a little more comfortable with the nuances of Resolve. (Click on the images below for enhanced views.)

df2215_resolvetips_1_smPrimary sliders. Resolve gives you two ways to adjust primary color correction – color wheels and sliders. Most people gravitate to the wheels control panel, but the sliders panel is often faster and more precise. Adjustments made in either control will show up in the other. If you adjust color balance using the sliders, while monitoring the RGB parade display and/or the histogram on the video scopes, then it’s very easy to dial in perfect black and white balance for a shot. If the blue shadow portion looks too high on the RGB parade display, it means that the shadows of the image will look bluish. Simply move the blue lift slider lower to push the shadows closer to a true black. An added benefit of this panel is that the controls react to a wheeled mouse. This is great if you don’t have access to a control surface. Hover the mouse over the slider that you want to adjust and twirl the mouse wheel up or down to make your correction.

df2215_resolvetips_2_smGang/ungang curves. Given the propensity of cameras to record with log gamma profiles, you often find the need to apply an s-shaped luma curve during color correction. This shifts the low and high ranges of the image to expand the signal back to full levels, while retaining a “filmic” quality to that image. In the custom curves panel you’ll encounter a typical layout of four curves for luma and RGB. The default is for these to be ganged together. Adjust one and they all change. However, this means you are jacking around chroma levels when you might simply want to alter luma. Therefore, make sure to disable ganging before you start. Then adjust the luma curve. Only adjust the R, G or B curves if it’s beneficial to your look.

df2215_resolvetips_3_smHue/sat curves. If you toggle the curves pulldown menu, you’ll notice a number of other options, like hue vs. hue, hue vs. sat, and so on. These curve options let you grab a specific color and adjust its hue, saturation or brightness, without changing the tone of the entire image. When you sample a color, you end up with three points along the curve – the pin for the selected color and a range boundary pin on either side of that color. These boundary points determine the envelope of your selection. In other words, how broad of a range of hues that you want to affect for the selected color. Think of it as a comparable function to an audio EQ.

It is possible to select multiple points along the curve. Let’s say you want to lower the saturation of both bright yellows and bright blues within the frame. Choose the hue vs. sat curve and select points for both yellow and blue. Pulling these points down will lower the saturation of each of these colors using a single panel.

The hue vs. hue curve is beneficial for skin tones. A film that I’m currently grading features a Korean lead actress. Her skin tones normally skew towards yellow or green in many shots. The Caucasian and African American actors in the same shots appear with “normal” skin tones. By selecting the color that matches her flesh tones on the curve, I am able to shift the hues towards a value that is more in keeping with pleasing flesh tone colors. When used in combination with a mask, it’s possible to isolate this correction to just her part of the frame, so as not to affect the coloration of the other actors within the same shot.

df2215_resolvetips_4_smTracking/stabilization. Most folks know that Resolve has one of the best and fastest trackers of any application. Add an oval mask to someone’s face, so that you can brighten up just that isolated area. However, as the person moves within the shot, you have to adjust the mask to follow their face. This is where Resolve’s cloud-point tracker is a lifesaver. It’s fast and most of the time stays locked to the subject. The tracking window also enables stabilization. Use the pulldown menu to toggle from tracking to stabilization. This is a two-step process – first analyze and then stabilize. You can dial in an amount of smoothness, if you want to retain some of the camera drift for a more natural appearance to the shot.

df2215_resolvetips_5_smBlurs/masks/tracking. Resolve (including the free version) enables blurring of the image. This can be used in conjunction with a mask and with tracking, if you need to blur and track an object, like logos that need to be obscured in non-scripted TV shows. Using a blur with a vignette mask lets you create a dreamy effect. This is all possible without resorting to third-party filters or plug-ins.

df2215_resolvetips_6_smScene detection/slicing. There are three ways to get a show into Resolve: a) edit from scratch in Resolve; b) roundtrip from another NLE using FCPXML, XML, AAF or an EDL; or 3) export a flattened media file of your timeline from another NLE and import that master file into Resolve. This process is similar to when masters were output to tape, which in turn were graded in a DaVinci “tape-to-tape” color correction session. Resolve has the ability to analyze the file and determine edit points with reasonable accuracy. It will break up the files into individual master clips within your media pool. Unfortunately, these are viewed in the timeline as individual media clips with boundaries, thus making trimming difficult.

My preference is to place the clip onto a new timeline and then manually add splices at all edit points and dissolves. Since Resolve includes editing capabilities, you can trim, alter or add points in case of error or missed edits. This can be aided by importing a matching, blank XML or EDL and placing it onto a higher track, which then lets you quickly identify all edit points that you’ll need to create.

df2215_resolvetips_7_smAdd dissolves. In the example above, how do you handle video dissolves that exist in the master file? The solution (in the Resolve timeline) is to add an edit point at the midpoint of the dissolve that’s embedded within the media file. Next, add a new dissolve equal to the length of the existing dissolve in the video. This way, color correction for one shot will naturally dissolve to the color correction of the second shot. In effect, you aren’t dissolving video sources – only color correction values. This technique may also be used within a single shot if you have correction changes inside that shot. Although in the second case, adding correction keyframes in the Color page is normally a better solution. This might be the case if you are trying to counteract level changes within the shot, such as an in-camera iris change.

df2215_resolvetips_8_smNode strategy. Resolve allows you to store complex grades for shots – which will include as many nodes as required to build the look – at a single memory register. You can build up each adjustment in multiple nodes to create the look you desire, store it and then apply that grade to other shots in a single step. This is very useful; however, I tend to work a bit differently when going through a scene in a dramatic project.

I generally go through the scene in multiple “passes”. For instance, I’ll quickly go through each shot with a single node to properly balance the color and make the shots reasonably consistent with each other. Next, I’ll go back through and add a second node (no adjustment yet) for each shot. Once that’s done, I’ll go back to the head of the scene and in that second node make the correction to establish a look. I can now use a standard copy command (cmd-C on the Mac) to store those values for that single node. When I go to the next shot, the second node is already selected, so then I simply paste (cmd-V on the Mac) those values. Let’s say the scene is a two-person dialogue scene using two singles. Angle A is a slightly different color than Angle B. Set the second node adjustment for Angle A, copy, and then paste to each Angle A shot (leapfrogging the Angle B shots). Then repeat for the Angle B shots.

Lastly, I might want to add a vignette. Go back through the scene and add a third, blank node for each shot. Create the vignette in node three of the first shot, then copy and paste into each of the others. I can still adjust the darkness, softness and position of the vignette at each shot, as needed. It’s a bit of an assembly line process, but I find it’s a quick way to go through a scene and build up adjustments without getting fixated on a single shot. At any point, I can review the whole scene and get a better feel for the result of my corrections in the context of the entire scene.

df2215_resolvetips_9_smLUTs. Resolve enables the application of technical and creative LUTs (color look-up tables). While I find their use limited and should be applied selectively, it’s possible to add your own to the palette. Any .cube LUT file – whether you found it, bought it, or created your own – can be added to Resolve’s library of LUTs. On the Mac, the Resolve LUT folder is found in Library/Application Support/Blackmagic Design/DaVinci Resolve/LUT.

df2215_resolvetips_10_smExport with audio. You can export a single finished timeline or individual clips using the Deliver page. At the time of this post, Resolve 12 has yet to be released, but hopefully the audio export issues I’ve encountered have been completely fixed. In my experience using Resolve 11 with RED camera files, it has not been possible to accurately export a complete timeline and have the audio stay in sync. I haven’t found this to be the case with other camera formats, though. So if you are exporting a single master file, expect the potential need to bring the picture into another application or NLE, in order to marry it with your final mix. Resolve 11 and earlier are not really geared for audio – something which Resolve 12 promises to fix. I’ll have a review of Resolve 12 at some point in the future.

Hopefully these tips will give you a deeper dive into Resolve. For serious training, here are some resources to check out:

Color Grading Central




Mixing Light

Ripple Training

Tao of Color

©2015 Oliver Peters

The FCP X – RED – Resolve Dance II


Last October I wrote about the roundtrip workflow surrounding Final Cut Pro X and Resolve, particularly as it relates to working with RED camera files. This month I’ve been color grading a small, indie feature film shot with RED One cameras at 4K resolution. The timeline is 1080p. During the course of grading the film in DaVinci Resolve 11, I’ve encountered a number of issues in the roundtrip process. Here are some workflow steps that I’ve found to be successful.

Step 1 – For the edit, transcode the RED files into 1080p Apple ProRes Proxy QuickTime movies baking in camera color metadata and added burn-in data for clip name and timecode. Use either REDCINE-X Pro or DaVinci Resolve for the transcode.

Step 2 – Import the proxies and double-system audio (if used) into FCP X and sync within the application or use Sync-N-Link X. Ideally all cameras should record reference audio and timecode should match between the cameras and the sound recorder. Slates should also be used as a fall-back measure.

Step 3 – Edit in FCP X until you lock the cut. Prepare a duplicate sequence (Project) for grading. In that sequence, strip off (detach and remove) all audio. As an option, you can create a mix-down track for reference and attach it as a connected clip. Flatten the timeline down to the Primary Storyline where ever possible, so that Resolve only sees this as one track of video. Compound clips should be broken apart, effects should be removed, and titles removed. Audition clips should be finalized, but multicam clips are OK. Remove effects filters. Export an FCPXML (version 1.4 “previous”) list. You should also export a self-contained reference version of the sequence, which can be used to check the conform in Resolve.

Step 4 – Launch Resolve and make sure that the master project settings match that of your FCP X sequence. If it’s supposed to be 1920×1080 at 23.976 (23.98) fps, then make sure that’s set correctly. Resolve defaults to a frame rate of 24.0fps and that won’t work. Locate all of your camera original source media (RED camera files in this example) and add them to your media bin in the Media page. Import the FCPXML (1.4), but disable the setting to automatically load the media files in the import dialogue box. The FCPXML file will load and will relink to the RED files without issue if everything has gone correctly. The timeline may have a few clip conflicts, so look for the little indicator on the clip corner in the Edit window timeline. If there’s a clip conflict, you’ll be presented with several choices. Pick the correct one and that will correct the conflict.

Step 5 – At this point, you should verify that the files have conformed correctly by comparing against a self-contained reference file. Compound clips can still be altered in Resolve by using the Decompose function in the timeline. This will break apart the nested compound clips onto separate video tracks. In general, reframing done in the edit will translate, as will image rotation; however, flips and flops won’t. To flip and flop an image in FCP X requires a negative X or Y scale value (unless you used a filter), which Resolve cannot achieve. When you run across these in Resolve, reset the scale value in the Edit page inspector to normal from that clip. Then in the Color page use the horizontal or vertical flip functions that are part of the resizing controls. Once this is all straight, you can grade.

Step 6 option A – When grading is done, shift to the Deliver page. If your project is largely cuts-and-dissolves and you don’t anticipate further trimming or slipping of edit points in your NLE, then I would recommend exporting the timeline as a self-contained master file. You should do a complete quality check the exported media file to make sure there were no hiccups in the render. This file can then be brought back into any NLE and combined with the final mixed track to create the actual show master. In this case, there is no roundtrip procedure needed to get back into the NLE.

Step 6 option B – If you anticipate additional editing of the graded files – or you used transitions or other effects that are unique to your NLE – then you’ll need to use the roundtrip “return” solution. In the Deliver page, select the Final Cut Pro easy set-up roundtrip. This will render each clip as an individual file at the source or timeline resolution with a user-selected handle length added to the head and tail of each clip. Resolve will also write a corresponding FCPXML file (version 1.4). This file will retain the original transitions. For example, if you used FCP X’s light noise transition, it will show up as a dissolve in Resolve’s timeline. When you go back to FCP X, it will retain the proper transition information in the list, so you’ll get back the light noise transition effect.

Resolve generates this list with the assumption that the media files were rendered at source resolution and not timeline resolution. Therefore, even if your clips are now 1920×1080, the FCPXML represents these as 4K. When you import this new FCPXML back into FCP X, a spatial conform will be applied to “fit” the files into the 1920×1080 raster space of the timeline. Change this to “none” and the 1080 media files will be blown up to 4K. You can choose to simply live with this, leave it to “fit”, and render the files again on FCP X’s output – or follow the next step for a workaround.

Step 7 – Create a new Resolve project, making sure the frame rate and timeline format are correct, such as 1920×1080 at 23.976fps. Load the new media files that were exported from Resolve into the media pool. Now import the FCPXML that Resolve has generated (uncheck the selection to automatically import media files and uncheck sizing information). The media will now be conformed to the timeline. From the Edit page, export another FCPXML 1.4 for that timeline (no additional rendering is required). This FCPXML will be updated to match the media file info for the new files – namely size, track configuration, and frame rate.

At this stage, you will encounter a second serious flaw in the FCP X/Resolve/FCP X roundtrip process. Resolve 11 does not write a proper FCPXML file and leaves out certain critical asset information. You will encounter this if you move the media and lists between different machines, but not if all of the work is being done on a single workstation. The result will be a timeline that loads into FCP X with black clips (not the red “missing” icon). When you attempt to reconnect the media, FCP X will fail to relink and will issue an “incompatible files” error message. To fix the problem, either the colorist must have FCP X installed on the Resolve system or the editor must have Resolve 11 installed on the FCP X system. This last step is the one remaining workaround.

Step 8 option A – If FCP X is installed on the Resolve machine, import the FCPXML into FCP X and reconnect the media generated by Resolve. Then re-export a new FCPXML from FCP X. This new list and media can be moved to any other system. You can move the FCP X Library successfully, as well.

Step 8 option B – If Resolve is installed on the FCP X machine, then follow Step 7. The new FCPXML that you create there will load into FCP X, since you are on the same system.

That’s the state of things right now. Maybe some of these flaws will be fixed with Resolve 12, but I don’t know at this point. The FCPXML list format involves a bit of voodoo at times and this is one of those cases. The good news is that Resolve is very solid when it comes to relinking, which will save you. Good luck!

©2015 Oliver Peters

Building a Free FCP X Color Correction Filter

df2315_opcolor_1One nice aspect of the symbiotic relationship between Final Cut Pro X and Motion is that Motion can be used to create effects, transitions, titles and generators for use in FCP X. These are Motion Templates and they form the basis for the creation of nearly all third-party effects filters, both paid and free. This means that if you learn a bit about Motion, you can create your own custom effects or make modifications to the existing ones supplied with FCP X. This has become very easy to do in the newest versions (FCP X 10.2.1 and Motion 5.2.1).

I decided to build a color correction filter that covered most of the standard adjustments you need with the usual types of footage. There are certainly a number of really good color correction/grading filters already on the market for FCP X. Apple’s own color board works well and with 10.2 has been broken out as a normal effects filter. However, a lot of folks don’t like its tab/puck/swatch interface and would still rather work with sliders or color wheels. So as an experiment, I built my own color correction filter for use with FCP X – and you may download here and use it for free as well.

df2315_opcolor_4_smLet me point out that I am no Motion power user. I have nowhere near the skills of Mark Spencer, Simon Ubsdell or Alex Gollner when it comes to using Motion to its fullest. So all I’ve done is combine existing Motion filters into a single combined filter with zero modifications. But that’s the whole point and why this function has so much potential. A couple of these individual filters already exist singly within FCP X, but Motion has a lot more to choose from. Once you launch Motion, the starting point is to open a new Final Cut Effects project from the Motion project browser. This will default to a blank composition ready to have things added to it. Since I was creating a color correction filter, all I needed to do was select the existing Motion filters to use from the Library browser and drag-and-drop the choices into the composition.

df2315_opcolor_5I decided to combine Brightness, Contrast, Color Balance, Hue/Saturation and Tint, which were also stacked in that exact order. The next step in the process was to determine the state of the filter when you apply it and which parameters and sliders to publish. Items that are published, such as a slider, will show up in the inspector in FCP X and can be adjusted by the editor. In my case, I decided to publish every parameter in the stack. To publish, simply click on the right side edge of each parameter line and you’ll find a pulldown selection that includes a publish/unpublish toggle. Note that the order in which you click the publish commands will determine the order of how these commands are stacked when they show up inside FCP X. To make the most sense, I followed a straight sequence order, top to bottom.

df2315_opcolor_3_smYou can also determine the starting state when you first apply or preview the effect.  For example, whether a button starts out enabled or disabled. In the case of this filter, I’ve enabled everything and left it at a neutral or default value, with the exception of Tint. This starts in the ‘off’ position, because I didn’t want a color cast to be applied when you first add the filter to a clip. Once everything is set-up, you simply save the effect to a desired location in the Motion Templates folder. You can subsequently open the Motion project from there to modify the effect. When it’s saved again, the changes are updated to the filter in FCP X.

If you’ve downloaded my effects filter, unzip the file and follow the Read Me document. I’ve created an “Oliver FX” category and this complete folder should be placed into the User/Movies/Motion Templates/Effects folder on your hard drive.df2315_opcolor_2

Applying the filter inside Final Cut Pro X is the same as any of the other effects options. It has the added benefit that all parameters can be keyframed. The Color Balance portion works like a 3-way color corrector, except that it uses the OS color picker wheels in lieu of a true 3-color-wheel interface. As a combination of native filters, performance is good without taxing the machine.

UPDATE (12 June 2015) : I have added one addition filter into the download file. The second filter is called “Oliver DVE” and designed to give you a full set of transform controls that include XYZ rotation. It comes from the transform control set included with Motion. This provides you with the equivalent of a 2.5D DVE, which is not available in the default control set of FCP X.

UPDATE 2 (15 June 2015) : These filters are not backward compatible. They will work in FCP X 10.1.2 and Motion 5.1.2 and forward (hopefully), but not in earlier versions. That’s due to technology changes between these versions. If you downloaded these prior to June 15, for FCP X 10.1.2 or 10.1.4 and they aren’t working, please download again. I have modified the files to work in FCP X 10.1.2 and later. Thank you.

Download the free “Oliver Color” and “Oliver DVE” filters here. My previously-created, free FCP X color board presets may be found here.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Tips for Production Success – Part 2

df2015_prodtips_2_smPicking up from my last post (part 1), here are 10 more tips to help you plan for a successful production.

Create a plan and work it. Being a successful filmmaker – that is, making a living at it – is more than just producing a single film. Such projects almost never go beyond the festival circuit, even if you do think it is the “great American film”. An indie producer may work on a project for about four years, from the time they start planning and raising the funds – through production and post – until real distribution starts. Therefore, the better approach is to start small and work your way up. Start with a manageable project or film with a modest budget and then get it done on time and in budget. If that’s a success, then start the next one – a bit bigger and more ambitious. If it works, rinse and repeat. If you can make that work, then you can call yourself a filmmaker.

Budget. I have a whole post on this subject, but in a nutshell, an indie film that doesn’t involve union talent or big special effects will likely cost close to one million dollars, all in. You can certainly get by on less. I’ve cut films that were produced for under $150,000 and one even under $50,000, but that means calling in a lot of favors and having many folks working for free or on deferment. You can pull that off one time, but it’s not a way to build a business, because you can’t go back to those same resources and ask to do it a second time. Learn how to raise the money to do it right and proceed from there.

Contingencies at the end. Intelligent budgeting means leaving a bit for the end. A number of films that I’ve cut had to do reshoots or spend extra days to shoot more inserts, establishing shots, etc. Plan for this to happen and make sure you’ve protected these items in the budget. You’ll need them.

Own vs. rent. Some producers see their film projects as a way to buy gear. That may or may not make sense. If you need a camera and can otherwise make money with it, then buy it. Or if you can buy it, use it, and then resell it to come out ahead – by all means follow that path. But if gear ownership is not your thing and if you have no other production plans for the gear after that one project, then it will most likely be a better deal to work out rentals. After all, you’re still going to need a lot of extras to round out the package.

Shooting ratios. In the early 90s I worked on the post of five half-hour and hourlong episodic TV series that were shot on 35mm film. Back then shooting ratios were pretty tight. A half-hour episode is about 20-22 minutes of content, excluding commercials, bumpers, open, and credits. An hourlong episode is about 44-46 minutes of program content. Depending on the production, these were shot in three to five days and exposed between 36,000 and 50,000 feet of negative. Therefore, a typical day meant 50-60 minutes of transferred “dailies” to edit from – or no more than five hours of source footage, depending on the series. This would put them close to the ideal mark (on average) of approximately a 10:1 shooting ratio.

Today, digital cameras make life easier and with the propensity to shoot two or more cameras on a regular basis, this means the same projects today might have conservatively generated more than 10 hours of source footage for each episode. This impacts post tremendously – especially if deadline is a factor. As a new producer, you should strive to control these ratios and stay within the goal of a 10:1 ratio (or lower).

Block and rehearse. The more a scene is buttoned down, the fewer takes you’ll need, which leads to a tighter shooting ratio. This means rehearse a scene and make sure the camera work is properly blocked. Don’t wing it! Once everything is ready, shoot it. Odds are you’ll get it in two to three takes instead of the five or more that might otherwise be required.

Control the actors. Unless there’s a valid reason to let your actors improvise, make sure the acting is consistent. That is, lines are read in the same order each take, props are handled at the same point, and actors consistently hit their marks each take. If you stray from that discipline, the editorial time becomes longer. If allowed to engage in too much freewheeling improvisation, actors may inadvertently paint you into a corner. To avoid that outcome, control it from the start.

Visual effects planning. Most films don’t require special effects, but there are often “invisible” fixes that can be created through visual effects. For example, combining elements of two takes or adding items to a set. A recent romantic drama I post-supervised used 76 effects shots of one type or another. If this is something that helps the project, make sure to plan for it from the outset. Adobe After Effects is the ubiquitous tool that makes such effects affordable. The results are great and there are plenty of talented designers who can assist you within almost any budget range.

Multiple cameras vs. single camera vs. 4K. Some producers like the idea of shooting interviews (especially two-shots) in 4K (for a 1080 finish) and then slice out the frame they want. I contend that often 4K presents focus issues, due to the larger sensors used in these cameras. In addition, the optics of slicing a region out of a 4K image are different than using another camera or zooming in to reframe the shot. As a result, the look that you get isn’t “quite right”. Naturally, it also adds one more component that the editor has to deal with – reframing each and every shot.

Conversely, when shooting a locked-off interview with one person on-camera, using two cameras makes the edit ideal. One camera might be placed face-on towards the speaker and the other from a side angle. This makes cutting between the camera angles visually more exciting and makes editing without visible jump cuts easier.

In dramatic productions, many new directors want to emulate the “big boys” and also shoot with two or more cameras for every scene. Unfortunately this isn’t always productive, because the lighting is compromised, one camera is often in an awkward position with poor framing, or even worse, often the main camera blocks the secondary camera. At best, you might get 25% usability out of this second camera. A better plan is to shoot in a traditional single-camera style. Move the camera around for different angles. Tweak the lighting to optimize the look and run the scene again for that view.

The script is too long. An indie film script is generally around 100 pages with 95-120 scenes. The film gets shot in 20-30 days and takes about 10-15 weeks to edit. If your script is inordinately long and takes many more days to shoot, then it will also take many more days to edit. The result will usually be a cut that is too long. The acceptable “standard” for most films is 90-100 minutes. If you clock in at three hours, then obviously a lot of slashing has to occur. You can lose 10-15% (maybe) through trimming the fat, but a reduction of 25-40% (or more) means you are cutting meat and bone. Scenes have to be lost, the story has to be re-arranged, or even more drastic solutions. A careful reading of the script and conceiving that as a finished concept can head off issues before production ever starts. Losing a scene before you shoot it can save time and money on a large scale. So analyze your script carefully.

Click here for Part 1.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Tips for Production Success – Part 1

df1915_prodtips_1_smThroughout this blog, I’ve written numerous tips about how to produce projects, notably indie features, with a successful outcome in mind. I’ve tried to educate on issues of budget and schedule. In these next two entries, I’d like to tackle 21 tips that will make your productions go more smoothly, finish on time, and not become a disaster during the post production phase. Although I’ve framed the discussion around indie features, the same tips apply to commercials, music videos, corporate presentations, and videos for the web.

Avoid white. Modern digital cameras handle white elements within a shot much better than in the past, but hitting a white shirt with a lot of light complicates your life when it comes to grading and directing the eye of the viewer. This is largely an issue of art direction and wardrobe. The best way to handle this is simply to replace whites with off-whites, bone or beige colors. The sitcom Barney Miller, which earned DP George Spiro Dibie recognition for getting artful looks out of his video cameras, is said to have had the white shirts washed in coffee to darken them a bit. The whiteness was brought back once the cameras were set up. The objective in all of this is to get the overall brightness into a range that is more controllable during color correction and to avoid clipping.

Expose to the right. When you look at a signal on a histogram, the brightest part is on the righthand side of the scale. By pushing your camera’s exposure towards a brighter, slightly over-exposed image (“to the right”), you’ll end up with a better looking image after grading (color correction). That’s because when you have to brighten an image by bringing up highlights or midtones, you are accentuating the sensor noise from the camera. If the image is already brighter and the correction is to lower the levels, then you end up with a cleaner final image. Since most modern digital cameras use some sort of log or hyper gamma encoding to record a flatter signal, which preserves latitude, opening up the exposure usually won’t run the risk of clipping the highlights. In the end, a look that stretches the shadow and mids to expose more detail to the eye gives you a more pleasing and informative image than one that places emphasis on the highlight portion.

Blue vs. green-screen. Productions almost ubiquitously use green paint, but that’s wrong. Each paint color has a different luminance value. Green is brighter and should be reserved for a composite where the talent should appear to be outside. Blue works best when the composited image is inside. Paint matters. The correct paint to use is still the proper version of Ultimatte blue or green paint, but many people try to cut corners on cost. I’ve even had producers go so far as to rig up a silk with a blue lighting wash and expect me to key it! When you light the subject, move them as far away from the wall as possible to avoid contamination of the color onto their hair and wardrobe. This also means, don’t have your talent stand on a green or blue floor, when you aren’t intending to see the floor or see them from their feet to their head.

Rim lighting. Images stand out best when your talent has some rim lighting to separate them from the background. Even in a dark environment, seek to create a lighting scheme that achieves this rimming effect around their head and shoulders.

Tonal art direction. The various “blockbuster” looks are popular – particularly the “orange and teal” look. This style pushes skin tones warm for a slight orange appearance, while many darker background elements pick up green/blue/teal/cyan casts. Although this can be accentuated in grading, it starts with proper art direction in the set design and costuming. Whatever tonal characteristic you want to achieve, start by looking at the art direction and controlling this from step one.

Rec. 709 vs. Log. Digital cameras have nearly all adopted some method of recording an image with a flat gamma profile that is intended to preserve latitude until final grading. This doesn’t mean you have to use this mode. If you have control over your exposure and lighting, there’s nothing wrong with recording Rec. 709 and nailing the final look in-camera. I highly recommend this for “talking head” interviews, especially ones shot on green or blue-screen.

Microphone direction/placement. Every budding recording engineer working in music and film production learns that proper mic placement is critical to good sound. Pay attention to where mics are positioned, relative to where the person is when they speak. For example, if you have two people in an interview situation wearing lavaliere mics on their lapels, the proper placement would be on each’s inner lapel – the side closer to the other person. That’s because each person will turn towards the other to address them as they speak and thus talk over that shoulder. Having the mic on this side means they are speaking into the mic. If it were on their outer lapel, they would be speaking away from the mic and thus the audio would tend to sound hollow. For the same reasons, when you use a boom or fish pole overhead mic, the operator needs to point the mic in the direction of the person talking. They will need to shift the mic’s direction as the conversation moves from one person to the next to follow the sound.

Multiple microphones/iso mics. When recording dialogue for a group of actors, it’s best to record their audio with individual microphones (lavs or overhead booms) and to record each mic on an isolated track. Cameras typically feature on-board recording of two to four audio channels, so if you have more mics than that, use an external multi-channel recorder. When external recording is used, be sure to still record a composite track to your camera for reference.

Microphone types. There are plenty of styles and types of microphones, but the important factors are size, tonal quality, range, and the axis of pick-up. Make sure you select the appropriate mic for the task. For example, if you are recording an actor with a deep bass voice using a lavaliere, you’d be best to use a type that gives you a full spectrum recording, rather than one that favors only the low end.

Sound sync. There are plenty of ways to sync sound to picture in double-system sound situations. Synchronizing by matched timecode is the most ideal, but even there, issues can arise. Assure that the camera’s and sound recorder’s timecode generators don’t drift during the day – or use a single, common, external timecode generator for both. It’s generally best to also include a clapboard and, when possible, also record reference audio to the camera. If you plan to sync by audio waveforms (PluralEyes, FCP X, Premiere Pro CC), then make sure the reference signal on the camera is of sufficient quality to make synchronization possible.

Record wild lines on set. When location audio is difficult to understand, ADR (automatic dialogue replacement, aka “looping”) is required. This happens because the location recording was not of high quality due to outside factors, like special effects, background noise, etc. Not all actors are good at ADR and it’s not uncommon to watch a scene with ADR dialogue and have it jump out at you as the viewer. Since ADR requires extra recording time with the actor, this drives up cost on small films. One workaround in some of these situations is for the production team to recapture the lines separately – immediately after the scene was shot – if the schedule permits. These lines would be recorded wild and may or may not be in sync. The intent is to get the right sonic environment and emotion while you are still there on site. Since these situations are often fast-paced action scenes, sync might not have to be perfect. If close enough, the sound editors can edit the lines into place with an acceptable level of sync so that viewers won’t notice any issues. When it works, it saves ADR time down the road and sounds more realistic.

Click here for Part 2.

©2015 Oliver Peters